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Hamilton to renew recent postseason rivalry with ‘Mid-Buck’

Hornets’ 10-6 win at Princeton sets them against unbeaten KCI champ Mid-Buchanan in playoffs for third-straight year at home this Saturday

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Junior defensive back Nate Wyckoff of the Hamilton: Penney High School football Hornets runs back one of the two interceptions he made during Hamilton's 10-6 victory at Princeton in the Class 1 District 7 championship game Friday (Nov. 13).
  • Hamilton, Mid-Buchanan will meet in state playoffs a third-straight year Saturday

PRINCETON — There certainly won’t be any secrets or surprises to be revealed this Saturday afternoon when Hamilton’s Penney High School Hornets host the Mid-Buchanan Dragons in a 1 p.m. Class 1 state-quarterfinals contest. The Hornets, however, hope to write a new closing scene after earning a 10-6 district-finals victory at Princeton last Friday.

It will be the third year in a row the KCI Conference members will clash a second time during the state playoffs.

In 2018, after perennial power Hamilton eked out a regular-season victory over the then-young Dragons, but then had to win its district as the No. 5 seed, a fast-maturing “Mid-Buck” squad took command in the fourth quarter of a state-quarterfinals contest at Hamilton and scored an upset victory.

Last year, with many of the same key players involved, Mid-Buchanan won the regular-season contest 35-0 – again at Hamilton, only to have the underdog Hornets nearly spring an upset of their own on MBHS’ field at Willow Brook before falling 20-14, in a district final.

This year, with the Missouri State High School Activities Association back to assigning them to separate districts, they still have managed to create a second date, even though “Mid-Buck” (12-0) was the overwhelming favorite in District 8 and Hamilton No. 4 seed in District 7.

The Dragons, following a first-round bye in district play, hammered Polo and then county rival East Buchanan by a combined 90-6 margin. Penney High’s team received a COVID-19-caused forfeit from Gallatin before turning back top seed South Harrison 40-28 on the road in an easier-than-the-score-shows semifinal and slipping past No. 3 Princeton 10-6 last Friday, again on a foreign field.

By having played only on the road thus far this postseason, while Mid-Buchanan has been only at home, Hamilton will get to host the 2020 rematch.

Whether that makes any difference for the Penney High team against the Dragons, triggered by junior star quarterback Javon Noyes,  is debatable. After nearly seeing the Hornets knock them off following last year’s 35-points regular-season triumph, “Mid-Buck” and its nine unanimous all-conference players crushed them 63-6 in this year’s midseason meeting.

Hamilton has clearly improved since then.

First-year quarterback Tucker Ross has raised his level of play and become a more-substantial complementary threat to 2-times All-State senior running back Sawyer Molloy and the Hornets’ defense has been increasingly effective, as demonstrated in blanking Princeton the last 46 minutes of their district-title game last week.

Whether that improvement will make this Saturday’s game more competitive is subject to debate. There is, however, in this season the COVID-19 “wild card.” Until the teams actually take the field and the game actually begins, there’s always a chance of the virus tossing a monkey wrench into Mid-Buchanan’s designs on a state crown.

Hamilton: Penney High School football Hornets senior running back Sawyer Morrow runs through the attempted tackles of Eli Henke and Zeb Schwartzkopf of Princeton during the Hornets' 10-6 victory in Friday's (Nov. 13, 2020) Class 1 District 7 championship game at Princeton. Morrow rushed for 129 yards and scored all of his team's points as the Hornets advanced to this coming Saturday's state quarterfinal at Hamilton against Mid-Buchanan.

Hamilton has been used to leaning on Morrow’s legs for the bulk of its yardage and points the past three years. Last Friday at Princeton, it turned out to be his right foot that ultimately spelled the difference.

All of the scoring in the Hornets’ 10-6 victory occurred in the first half.

Princeton drew first blood inside the game’s first two minutes on Eli Henke’s 37-yards scoring run, but didn’t convert successfully and never scored again on the cold night with temperatures around the freezing mark across north Missouri.

Morrow then capped the Hornets’ first drive with a 3-yards scoring run with 5:47 to play in the opening period. He then provided what turned out to be the winning point with his foot, booting the extra-point for a 7-6 lead.

“I was afraid it might be a high-scoring game at that point, but both defenses settled in,” commented Hamilton head coach Caleb Obert this past Sunday.

It stayed 7-6 until the last play of the opening half when Morrow sent a 34-yards field goal attempt between the uprights for a 10-6 lead that stood up the rest of the way.

“In the second half, our defense played great. On offense, we moved the ball a few times and had some scoring opportunities, but came up short each time,” Obert recounted.

“Super proud of our team going into Princeton and taking on a red-hot team,” Obert saluted his Hornets. 

Both teams’ defenses made yardage hard to come by, surrendering less than a composite 370 yards between them. By each side’s respective tracking of themselves, as posted online, the Hornets won with only 216 yards of total offense and Princeton managed only 152.

Each team turned the ball over three times on the cold night. Hamilton lost two fumbles and threw one interception, but Nate Wyckhoff picked off a pair of Tigers throws and Morrow recovered a fumble.

Corbin Henderson, defensive hero of the South Harrison win a week earlier, led Penney tacklers with 10 stops – half unaided and two for losses. Star lineman Fisher Nixdorf and safety Ross each had five solo tackles – three behind the line.

Morrow did gain 129 rushing yards, but needed 32 tries to do so with none of them gaining more than 14 yards, according to Hamilton’s statisticians.